Here we are at Friday, the transfer window has closed, we’ve made no incomings, there have been a fair few outgoings, but they’ve all been younger players on loan or released because they had contracts running down/would have been low value releases anyway, so all-in-all it’s been a quiet one and I think if we’re all honest we all knew that would most likely be the case. And I’m kind of ok with it, because when you look at the business that was done across the whole Premier League this January, it amounts to less than the price of one Declan Rice. Which is quite startling when you consider that I think last January there was over £700million in business done. The broadcasters at Sky will have been furious; their over-hyping of a window in which you rarely see true value obtained has been a key part of keeping fans hooked to their channel in January and this will no doubt have had them taking a ratings hit. I barely switched it on in January. I spent more time watching episodes of the Simpsons or The Good Life on UK Gold TV than I did waiting for the yellow ticker to flash up something interesting. Which suited me fine.
And I think the reason a lot of fans aren’t up in arms – I think – is because a lot of the angst is often predicated on what those around you are doing. If nobody is making any moves, then you know that whilst you haven’t strengthened, at least nobody else has and so you feel less sense of a potential advantage lost. City didn’t strengthen their first team by any great deal, nor did Liverpool. The Scum brought in Timo Werner on loan but I can live with that, whilst Villa’s moves were very much for the future. So there isn’t really much that there is for an Arsenal fan to feel too nervous about in terms of those around us, I don’t think.
So we can turn our attentions to Sunday’s massive game against Liverpool. Arteta will take his place in front of the microphones and he’ll be asked for a team update and also his thoughts on the January window. He’ll no doubt be relieved that’s done too and I suspect he too will be happy to have seen that other clubs around us haven’t really splashed the cash too much, because it means there isn’t a spotlight on him like there would have been had all of the clubs around us added to their squads with quality additions. He – and we – can all now focus on the football until May and the primary concern is who is fit and who will be well enough to play on Sunday. We won’t get any concrete information, as we know by now from Arteta’s press conferences, but for me as long as he doesn’t fully rule Thomas Partey out for Sunday’s game, then I think that is the best we can hope for. Klopp was asked ahead of the Chelsea game about Salah and he said he was “out for this game (Chelsea) and for the next (Arsenal)” but I don’t believe that for a second. We should plan to see Salah in the squad and to have some kind of impact. But if we have Partey back and as long as Arteta doesn’t confirm any absentees from the Forest game, then we have to be happy with that. Somebody said on Tuesday night on my Twitter feed that Rice didn’t look 100% and looked to be playing within himself, but he completed the full 90 minutes and although at times I did wonder if he had picked up a knock it looked like he’d shaken that off and so hopefully there’s nothing more in it than that.
Our focus has to be on how to stop Liverpool and their transition football with long diagonals. We saw it in the FA Cup game, we saw it in the league game at Anfield, we will see it on Sunday. I hope Arteta has a plan and as I was doing my running this morning I heard Clive on the Arsenal Vision pod talking about how in the last few games he’s seen us become a little more left-sided in our emphasis. I’ll admit to not really thinking much about it but when he then talked about how the way Liverpool like to play is with a right-sided emphasis (think Trent or Van Dijk with those long diagonals to Salah that we’ve seen all season), it started to make sense that this is where the game might have quite an impact, so I’ll be interested to see if that actually plays out on Sunday. But what I think was a great debate and I’m also keen to see, is if that other side of the pitch emphasis does indeed leave space on the far side for Saka to be able to go and attack more with space. It’ll be Robertson he’ll be up against, so one of his toughest tests of the season, but the fact he’s bagged a few goals and assists in his last few games is a good sign for us I think.
There’ll be plenty of time for some analysis for the Liverpool game in the next couple of days, but I don’t think I could stress this enough: this is possibly our biggest game of the season. Win it and we feel like we’re back in it. Draw and Liverpool will be happy, it’s another opportunity lost for us to make up ground on them, they remain five points off us and it’s one game closer to the end of the season. A defeat for us does, I think, all but end our hopes of winning the title. I know we’ve still got loads of games, there are more points to be won, but we’d be talking about an eight point gap and those kinds of gaps post Christmas when you don’t have games in hand always feel like they’re getting a bit too far. It makes you think about that Christmas period, doesn’t it? Had we have done our jobs in two very winnable games we’d all be talking very differently right now. But instead I’m talking about this being a potential ‘make or break’ for our Premier League campaign. It just goes to show you how much of a challenge this league is.
And on that final note I’ll stop there and catch you in the morrow. Have a good one and enjoy the rest of your Friday.